Meet the Experts: Rachel Leitch


Following on from our last interview with Steve Highwood, this latest instalment in our ‘Meet the experts: A year in review’ series turns to Rachel Leitch, principal process safety management consultant.

Here Vicky Shah, our sector lead for retail, hospitality and leisure, speaks to Rachel about her experience in health and safety, the complexity of the latest regulatory requirements and what it’s like to have the longest job title at Bureau Veritas!

Vicky Shah: Tell us about your own experiences through the years and how they help you in your role at Bureau Veritas.

Rachel Leitch: Apart from winning the title of longest job title in the business, my role as principal process safety management consultant gives me the opportunity to use my long and diverse experience across all aspects of health and safety.

I completed my degree in Bachelor of Applied Science – OH&S in 1995 and have more than 20 years’ experience since then across a number of sectors. I started my career in mining and construction but have diversified to work with nursing homes, boarding schools, wineries, pubs and clubs, food manufacturing and retail environments of all sizes.

My experience has demonstrated that regardless of the industry, the principles to managing health and safety risks are the same: ‘What are we about to do?’, ‘what can go wrong?’ and ‘what do we need to do to stop it?’.

VS: What is the most significant legislation that impacts your clients and how can Bureau Veritas support them?

RL: Understanding what legislation you need to follow can be quite confusing and it’s no wonder organisations turn to us.

I recently prepared a legal obligations register for a retail business that operates in all countries through the UK and there were 125 different pieces of legislation, codes, guides, International and British standards referenced in order to understand the inspection and assessment requirements for that organisation.

The list could go on but some of the main legislation included:

• Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
• Confined Spaces Regulations
• Control of Asbestos Regulations
• Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations
• Control of Vibration at Work Regulations
• DSEAR Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations
• Electricity at Work Regulations
• Fire Safety Regulation
• Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases (FGAS) Regulations
• Gas Safety (Installation and Use)
• Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER)
• Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations
• Pressure Systems Safety Regulation
• Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations
• Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations
• Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations

VS: What are the key areas to be considered?

RL: The key areas to consider when understanding what you need to do to achieve compliance is understand how hazards may arise and what could occur if control was lost.

I often recommend to clients that they think in terms of:

• People – for example ‘who could be exposed to the hazard?’, ‘what hazards does the individual introduce?’ and ‘how much influence do you have over the individual?’. For example, staff and contractors can be trained in hazard identification and management, but with customers there is very limited opportunity to influence their behaviours.
• Plant – consider what equipment is present in the workplace and which of that do you own and control, or which is brought into the work environment by others?
• Environment - this includes the work environment buildings, warehouse and kitchens, for example, as well as the external environment – we have to consider what weather conditions are expected, could flooding occur and what happens when it's snowing?

Health and safety requirements aim to reduce risks by either eliminating or reducing the hazard, reducing the time someone may be exposed to the hazard, or minimising the consequences of exposures. The best methods of control are often a combination of risk reduction steps that focus on the work environment, the plant / equipment, the people and steps to manage risks such as weather influence.

VS: What is required to achieve compliance?

RL: There are lots of various pieces of information that can be collated to give you an indication of compliance - incident rates, statutory inspection completed and audit findings, for example. But the real test is the ‘pit of your stomach’ test. When you think about health and safety do you feel that you understand all the issues that may be present? Do you believe that you have enough layers of protection in place to control the risk and give you appropriate information to take additional actions if required? If you can't answer yes to these, then maybe you need some assistance.

When it comes to health and safety the challenge is often knowing what you must do, by whom and how often. For example, let’s consider a weekly fire alarm function test, which is carried out to ensure that the alarm will work in the event of an emergency situation occurring.

Many organisations will have an external party come in weekly and test the alarm, but it’s possible that this function test could be done internally, through the provision of a detail work instruction and internal training. The organisation is still compliant and the alarm still gets tested – but there is no need to pay a third party to come in each week to complete that test.

VS: In your mind, why does it sometimes go wrong?

RL: In my experience when things go wrong, people will often say “I knew that was going to happen”. In almost every incident, during my investigations when trying to understand how the unwanted event occurred, often people will acknowledge that they had considered that this event could happen, but it seemed too hard to deal with, or there were controls in place and not followed. When things go wrong, solutions are always found, and controls that initially seemed to be a waste of time and money, are now followed.

How does your team help?

RL: Our Risk and Safety team can help you understand what you need to do, review what you are currently doing, ensure current controls are working and support in implementing any additional actions. We aid our clients in ensuring that their time, effort and resources are used smartly, giving them assurance that risks are controlled to an acceptable level.

VS: What one top tip would you give your clients?

RL: Don't be scared or overwhelmed by health and safety. Initially it can appear that there is far too much to read and the way legislation is written can sometimes seem like it’s a foreign language, but with a little support and someone to talk it over with, you’ll often find it is less overwhelming. In many cases, you may find that you already have most things covered and the additional steps you need to do actually aren't that hard or disruptive to put in place. Despite the misconception about health and safety professionals, we really are here to help!

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